The other night, BBC3 went totally against type by transmitting a thoughtful, low-key documentary about teenage life. Called “Tony: I’ve Lost My Family”, it followed the attempts of a gay Leeds teenager to try and re0rder his life, having been forced to fend for himself after his mother kicked him out of the family home. Living on a council estate and, at the start, almost entirely dependent on his emo housemate John-John, Tony managed to get a foothold in adulthood with a steady job; and whilst the process of becoming more self-sufficient was intended as a means of repairing relations with his mum, Tony instead became reunited with his late father’s side of the family. A chance reunion with his long-lost brother on Bebo was quickly followed with a reunion with his father’s relatives (who, it turned out, had been living close by).
It was a sweet, engaging and touching film – mainly because Tony himself has those qualities. However, the non-participation of his mum inevitably left some questions unanswered. He said that he had been led to believe that his father was violent and abusive, an impression quickly refuted by his grandmother; and there was similarly little by way of explanation for how such an apparently close-knit and loving family could have allowed the sad mess of Tony and his brother Mark’s childhood to come about: Mark taken into care, hence the long estrangement, and Tony himself kicked out of home aged 16, in part supposedly for stealing off his mum (again, refuted). However, what rang utterly false were the circumstances under which Tony got a job.
After an initial failed attempt at getting an office job, Tony then dropped his CV off around numerous places, before getting an interview and subsequently a job at Fibre. Fibre, for those who don’t live in and/or go out on the gay scene in Leeds, is an utterly vile place, full of nasty, shallow, over-styled queens and their entourages of shrieking fag hags. How quiet, intelligent, shy and introspective Tony got a job behind the bar there, where he obviously stuck out like a giant sore thumb, is anyone’s guess… except when you then remember who runs Fibre (and indeed most of the gay venues in Leeds). Terry George. A craven self-publicist, in 2005 George purposefully ensured that his, not Elton John’s would be the first civil partnership on the day these became legally recognised; one suspects he also jumped very readily at the chance to appear on The Secret Millionaire. And he was clearly thinking, not of Tony when he gave him the job at Fibre, but rather about the next bit of free promotion his empire could enjoy by interviewing him on camera, and then letting the camera crew into one of his venues. John-John was envious, going on about Fibre’s aspirational status; but then John-John’s own role in the film slowly shifted from that of responsible older brother to irritating younger brother, failing to grow along with Tony and becoming somewhat redundant once Tony had reconnected with his real brother. And I can assure you that Fibre is not a place to aspire to, not unless you’re very loud and extremely vain.
However, that aside, “Tony: I’ve Lost My Family” was still a pleasant oasis amidst the depressing and rather hateful litany of BBC3 documentaries about teenagers (and indeed the depressing and rather hateful litany of BBC3 programmes in general). I hope things continue to go well for Tony – and am sure he can do better for himself, in time, than his current place of work.